Each generation in the U.S. has lived longer than the one prior to it…eventually that has to change or successive generations will be living to be 200! Although life expectancy in the country in general has been increasing for the last twenty years, a new study shows that life expectancy for women has declined in 313 U.S. counties. (Curiously, life expectancy for men declined in only six counties.)
“We have talked about this trend as being the biggest decline in life expectancy since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 in the U.S.,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which issued the report.
Along with the gender disparities, the regional variations are very surprising. Life expectancy increased in the North with few exceptions (even in urban places like New York City). Yet large areas of the South saw decreases for women, in some cases by as much as nearly two years. Decreases were particularly concentrated in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
According to Remapping Debate: the life expectancy in Mississippi was the lowest in the country in 2007, at 77.9 years for women and 70.9 years for men, trailing the national figures by several years in both cases. And in one fifth of Mississippi counties, things are getting worse. In Sunflower County, a county of fewer than 30,000 people near the Mississippi River in the northeastern part of the state, life expectancy for women decreased more significantly than virtually anywhere else in the country, from 75.5 years in 1987 to 73.6 years in 2007.
Mokdad and his colleagues and the IHME suggest that behavioral factors, such as smoking, exercise and eating habits are part of the puzzle. CDC data shows that none of the states which experienced declines in life expectancy from 1987 to 2007 had obesity rates higher than 15 percent of the population as of 1990; yet by 2009, the obesity rate was more than 30 percent in all of them, and had not risen as fast in any other states. Seems like a pretty clear connection.
That might also explain why the decrease was quite a bit more pronounced for women than for men. Women typically have higher obesity rates and also suffer greater health consequences from obesity than men do.